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June 06, 2012
Time's Up: Now What Do We Do with All of These Records?

It can take decades for an illness caused by a work-related exposure to manifest. That's why Cal/OSHA requires employers to retain records of employee exposures to toxic substances and harmful physical agents for decades.

The retention requirements for employee exposure records are covered primarily in General Industry Safety Orders Section 3204. In most cases, you must keep these records for at least 30 years; some chemical-specific standards have even longer retention requirements.

But what happens at the end of that long retention period? Or what if your company is sold, or shuts down, before the retention period ends? Here is what you must do:

If you have reached the end of the required retention period for a given record or set of records. At least three months before disposal, you must:

  • Notify affected employees of their rights to access the records.

  • Notify the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in writing of the impending disposal of records.

If your company regularly disposes of records that have reached the end of their 30-year retention period, you may notify NIOSH annually of the records you intend to get rid of in the coming year (with at least three months' notice for the records that will be disposed of soonest).

Some standards skip the step regarding NIOSH notification, and simply require you to transfer your records to NIOSH. But NIOSH is unlikely to request your records or retain them if you do send them. The agency testified at a federal OSHA meeting in 2009 that while it initially believed such records would provide valuable information, that did not prove to be the case.

The records transfer requirement has since been deleted from federal OSHA's Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records standard as well as 17 other standards that included the requirement. Cal/OSHA's standards retain this requirement, but you need only send your notification letters to affected employees and NIOSH. At the end of three months, if no one has requested the records, you can dispose of them.

If your company is acquired by another employer. You must transfer employee exposure and medical records kept under Section 3204 to the successor employer, which must retain them as specified in the standard.

If your company ceases to do business, without a successor employer. At least three months before disposal, you must:

  • Notify affected employees of their rights to access the records.

  • Notify the NIOSH director in writing of the impending disposal of records.
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